Koochiching County

The Koochiching County Board will take a closer look at options to help three local organizations that could have their 2021 budgets reduced by the city of International Falls.

Representatives from the International Falls Chamber of Commerce, Backus Community Center and the Bronko Nagurski Museum met with commissioners Tuesday to discuss services they provide and how they could be impacted by budget reductions by the International Falls City Council. The council has not finalized its budget, but will do so in December.

Tricia Heibel, International Falls Area Chamber of Commerce president, Ward Merrill, executive director of Backus Community Center, and Ashley LaVigne, Koochiching Museums director, earlier this month approached Falls councilors pleading for the group to reconsider its proposed reductions.

The chamber could see a reduction of $30,000; Backus' reduction is proposed to be a $30,000 cut, and the museum's could be a reduction of $15,000. The city's preliminary budget is set at a 6-percent increase from its 2020 budget, but councilors have expressed the hope in reducing that amount when the final budget is set in December. 

County Commissioner Wade Pavleck Tuesday said he couldn't understand why the city would cut the funding to the three organizations in the midst of a pandemic.

“(It's) just beyond belief to me,” he said. “This is not a time they should be de-funded... by cutting the funding... they're cutting their own throat, so to speak.”

Jenny Herman, Koochiching County administration director, said when the board considers if it can provide any funding, it may only be able to address specific requests. For example, Herman said the county helped fund a roof replacement at the museum earlier this year.

“There are always some contingency funds set aside,” she said.

Pavleck said the board wasn't in a position Tuesday to take any action.

“(This is) something that needs to be addressed,” he said. “This is not the time to do what the city is doing and pop the legs out from under these organizations... To the three organizations: We're behind you, way behind you. We'll see what we can do.”

RRCC request

Meanwhile, the board Tuesday agreed to a $20,000 funding request from Rainy River Community College for its nursing program.

In a letter to commissioners, RRCC officials said in order to continue the serve the needs of the health care community, they need $20,000 to continue on an annual basis beginning in July of 2020 and continuing for three years, ending in June of 2023.

“Without your organization's support, the future of the nursing program is unclear,” the letter said. “With this support, we will be able to provide ongoing training for nurses and nursing assistants in our county.”

Since the program regained momentum about five years ago, nearly $1 million in annual wages has been added to the community, Commissioner Brian McBride said.

“This is the best $20,000 we can spend for economic development in the county,” he said.